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Employers – A Little Bit of Christmas Prep Can Help Avoid Those Party “Incidents”

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Every year, we remind employers about potential employment law issues that can arise over Christmas. Human nature being what it is, incidents often occur over Christmas that can lead to disciplinary action and even dismissal.

Christmas parties and relaxed office rules are all great for team spirit, team bonding and office morale - but they do also have the potential to cause problems if these once-a-year 'privileges' are abused.

As an employer, you have a duty to protect your staff and other third parties (like bar and restaurant staff) from harassment.

You can minimise the risk of unwelcome behaviour and consequent employment law claims by setting out clear ground rules for staff well in advance of Christmas. Here are some examples of what you can do.

Remind Staff of Your Workplace Policies

  • Remind staff of your workplace policies including your social media, absence, disciplinary and anti-discrimination policies. (If you don't have these, click here.
  • Remind staff that they are the face of your business even during Christmas festivities. Poor behaviour reflects on your business and could potentially damage your reputation.

Protect Your Reputation: Social Media Issues

  • With the widespread use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Christmas tends to blur the line between work and personal life. Remind employees that their social media posts about work related events - including the office party - reflect on the business.
  • Specific guidance for staff on their use of social media will vary depending on your business but consider requesting:
    • - no posting of content on social media sites during Christmas celebrations;
    • - no posting of photos without the permission of all those in the photograph.
  • For more tips on social media use in the workplace, click here.

Avoid Harassment and Discrimination Claims

  • Explain workplace harassment to staff. They should not behave in a way that violates other people's dignity or creates an intimidating or hostile atmosphere (with behaviour based on of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion, age or belief).

Ensure the Office Party is Incident Free

  • Deal with potential health safety issues particularly if the party is held in the office. Carry out a Health & Safety assessment and ensure your first aid box is adequately supplied. Also arrange for a first aider to be on hand (and remain sober).
  • Check the insurance provisions about holding such an event on office premises.
  • Ensure that soft drinks are available as well as food that meets your staff's religious requirements.
  • Set a finishing time for the party that enables staff to catch the last train or bus. Alternatively, set up taxis for staff after the party. You do not want any of your staff adding to the notorious Christmas drink driving statistics! (Read more about motor offences here.)
  • Ask employees to avoid discussions with their managers about pay, promotions and working conditions during the party.
  • Ensure managers are present (and sober) to deal with any incidents quickly and effectively. They can then be available to organise a taxi for anyone who has over-indulged or step in to stop any offensive or potentially damaging/discriminatory behaviour.
  • Managers should ensure apologies are given immediately where possible but should also be aware that incidents might reveal deeper issues in the workplace. These will need to be addressed during normal working hours.

Disciplinary Proceedings

  • If an incident does occur, ensure you follow the procedures set out in your disciplinary policy.
  • Treat all employees consistently in accordance with your policies. Be careful not to discriminate against employees when deciding on action on the basis of age, belief, disability, gender, gender reassignment, religion or sexual orientation.

Managing Absence

  • Remind staff of the absence policy - and the consequences of unauthorised leave (especially the morning after an event).
  • Manage the potential for unauthorised absences during working hours. You might consider, for example:
    • - holding the Christmas party on a Friday (to avoid absences and 'woolly' heads the next day);
    • - as a gesture of goodwill, allowing each member of staff one extended lunch hour for Christmas shopping. This could be balanced with the hour being made up by an earlier start time or later finish time if Christmas business deadlines do not allow a 'free' hour.
  • For more tips on how to manage absenteeism generally, click here.

Cyber Security

  • Make employees aware that they may be more susceptible to cyber security attacks while in relaxed mode over Christmas. They should check all emails carefully and if there is anything unusual about the content, contact IT support. They should not click on any of the links and not provide any information that could lead to a fraudulent act.

Protect Your Client Relationships

  • Finally, ensure employees do not neglect their day-to-day business in the lead up to Christmas: meeting customer needs and deadlines is still a priority. Manage client expectations in advance to ensure client relationships are not affected.

Contact

To discuss any employment law issues, contact Susan Mayall on 0161 684 6948 or make an enquiry.

 

 

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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